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|part of the glue that binds us together is the delicious sensation of having shared in|
the violation of cultural standards--violations allowed in the name of love, commitment,
total sharing. The couple stands outside the rules, bound by its own sense of
specialness, and exclusivity. It discovers sex all over again, secure in the knowledge
of its daring creativity.
Jealousy arises at the contemplation of a partner engaging in sexual acts outside this
protecting envelope. Sex with others, outside the couple, emotionally charged and
n 'n r!efrnv thi ilhinn of shared and creative violation of
/ SLANT 41
Reality intrudes: these acts are common, not special; they are natural, no matter how
forbidden; the illusions that strengthened the commitment are suddenly revealed. The
jealous partner feels duped, misled, unfairly coerced into an emotional bond based
on romantic delusions.
Trivial, perhaps; but from these passions have come murder, the end of kingdoms,
brand new branches in the river of history. Never underestimate the ubiquitous power
The Kiss of X, Alive Contains a Lie
Mary Choy, at thirty-five, has been a PD for thirteen years--ten in Los Angeles,
the last three in Seattle. As far as she is concerned, her work is the most
important factor in her life; but that focus may be changing. So much about
her is changing.
She reads from her pad--pure text--as she finishes a lunch of cheese and
fruit in a small ninties-style cafe on North Promenade, in the shadow of the
Even her appearance is in flux. Since 2044, she has been a transform,
increasing her height by a foot, customizing her bone structure and facial
features, and turning her skin to satin ebony. But she is now reversing
much of this transform. Her skin is slowly demelanizing to light nut brown;
for now, she is mahogany. The satiny texture remains, but will in a few months
dull to ordinary skin matte. She retains her height, but her facial features
are flattening, becoming more those of her birth self. She never liked
the looks she was born with, but since her mind has undergone
changes--difficMties she calls them--she feels it is only right to assume a less
Also, in Seattle, while open tolerance of transforms is mandated by federal
and state law, there is an undercurrent of disapproval. And Seattle has been
her home for three years, ever since her fall from high natural tatus to simple
untherapied... The lapse of her brain's loci, the proportionil reshifting of
personality, sub-personalities, agents, organons, and talents...
The end of her brief marriage to artist E. Hassida...
The pass-overs for promotion in the LAPD...
Her resignation and transfer to Seattle Public Defense...
The two-day-old breakup with her most recent boyfriend.
Usually, thinking about all the changes darks her, but this afternoon she is
42 GREG BEAR
blue-gray Towers, the southernmost of the Eastside equivalents to the elongated
ribbon combs that dominate central Seattle.
After lunch, she will walk to a PD conference in Tillicum Tower on West
Eighth, where she will present a speech on Corridor Public Defense Cooperation.
She has been asked to handle inter-departmental relations until she is
rated for full Third, which she is assured will happen any day now. Seattle PD
is so much more casual about high natural vs. natural or untherapied, though
if anything even less tolerant of high thymic or pathic imbalance.
Reading for pleasure is a luxury she's come to enjoy in the past few years--though
the lit she's perusing now affords her a few too many uncomfortable
insights to be purely pleasurable.
An arbeiter politely inquires if she is done with her repast. She hands the
tray to the machine and reaches for her bag when her personal pad, still on the
She has a few minutes. She answers the touch.
"Mary? This is Hans."
Mary stiffens. The face in the pad screen is handsome, boyish but not foolish;
a face that held her interest for three months. And still attracts. It was Hans
who inexplicably chilled and told her it was over, it wasn't working.
"Hello, Hans," she says with forced casualness.
"I wanted to explain some things."
"I don't need explanations, Hans."
"I do. I've been feeling pretty rotten lately."
Mary passes on this opportunity.
"I liked you better the way you were. That's what... I've decided. I didn't
want you to change."
"Oh." She's going to let him do the talking; that's obviously why he's called.
"You were beautiful. Really exotic. I don't know why you want to change."
"I see where it can get confusing," she says. "I'm sorry."
Hans flashes. "Who are you, Mary, goddammit?"
"I'm the same as I was, Hans."
"But who in hell is that?"
Good question. For a time, she had hoped Hans might be able to help her
discover the answer, but no; Hans is hooked on appearances. He liked her the
way she was.
"I mean," he says, "I don't know you at all. I've been thinking about what
it must be like to become.., what you are, and then to go back."
"You mean, what it says about me, personally."
"Who does that sort of thing? I've been sad the past few days, missing you."
"But that person, that woman, isn't around. You're different from the person
"Oh," Mary says.
"No. Probably not." Her tone is professionally sympathetic. She refuses to
give him any more, show him anything deep.
"Who are you, Mary Choy?"
Her jaw muscles tense. She touches her cheek, pokes hard with a fingernail
to prod a little relaxation. "I'm a hard-working woman with very little time
to think about such things, Hans. I do what I think is best. I'm sorry you
couldn't stay on for the ride."
"No," Hans says, quieter now. "You bucked me right off, Ms. Bronco."
"You knew what was happening. I started my reversal before I met you."
"I know," Hans says, deflated completely. "I just wanted to say goodbye
and let you know that I'm suffering, at least a little. I wish I could understand."
"Thank you, Hans." She stares steadily at the pad's camera eye, giving
nothing, hating him. Then, something makes her say, "If it's any consolation,
I miss you, too."
It's time for her to leave to make her appointment. Still, she lets the camera
observe, sitting in her chair with the pad unfolded on the table, a real paper
napkin still tucked under one corner. Mary remembers the atavistic rough
absorption of the napkin, and the feel of Hans's lips on her own, a little dry,
like the napkin, but strong and hungry.
Hans looks down, lifts one hand, stares at the fingers nervously. "What are
you doing now?"
Mary sees no reason not to tell him. "I'm having lunch in a restaurant," she
says. "I'm going to give a talk soon."
"Yes. I'm reading while I eat."
"Lit? A book?"
"Yes." They had that much in common, an enjoyment of reading.
Contains a Lie," she says.
"Ah. The book for bitter lovers."
"It's a little more than that," she says, though in truth that's what made
her access it.
"Mary. I don't want you to..."
Hans stops there, mouth open, but does not seem to know what more to
"Good-bye," he says.
Mary nods. The touch ends and she closes her pad more forcefully than is
The air itself seems freer and more natural to her; today it is crisp but not
below freezing, and looking south down the wide crossing thoroughfare between
the Cascade and Tillicum towers, she can see Mount Rainier, like a
The light on the street pounds irly sparkles and the mufflered puffy-coated pedestrians
walk briskly with hands in pockets. Very few of them are obvious
transforms. To Mary, this is all the more interesting, because the Corridor--and
particularly Seattle--has assumed a leadership position over the past fifty
years in the Rim and mid-continent economy. In Japan or Taiwan, fully half
the Affected--those who are politically active, who bother to work and vote
and believe they can change things, and who are tied in to temp agencies and
employed in the hot and open marketplace--are transforms. In Los Angeles,
nearly a third... And in San Francisco, almost two thirds.
Here, a mere five percent.
She reaches the gaping entrance of the Tillicum Tower. Winds swirl and
Mary clutches her small gray hat as she passes into the orange and yellow and
jungled warmth of the tower court. Several sunlike globes hang over the broad
indoor plaza. Tailored birds twitter and screech in the massive tropical trees
that entwine the inner buttresses. She might be in a corporate vision of Amazon
heaven, with glassed-in rivers to right and left, graceful plant-cabled bridges
arching between the floors overhead, and everywhere the adwalls targeting their
paid consumers, their messages barely aglimmer on the edge of Mary's senses.
She has never subscribed to adwalls, considers their presence an invitation to
subtle slavery to those economic forces she has long since learned never to trust.
The paid consumers, however, thrive, feel connected, bathed in information
about everything they can imagine. They stand transfixed as new ads lock on
and deluge them.
Mary guesses at what one couple is experiencing, in the shadow of a huge
spreading banyan. They are in their mid-twenties, pure comb sweethearts,
contracted for pre-nups but definitely not life bonders, playing for the moment
while they take LitVid eds and gain status with their temp agency. Both are
likely clients to the same organization--Workers Inc, she judges from the cut
of their frills. They are being hit by sophisticated material, dense and frenetic,
catering to all the accepted vividities--sex within relationships, domesticity,
corporate adventure, insider thrills. These they will admit to enjoying, and
discuss, in public. The male of the pair, Mary specks, will secretly tune in to
the massive TouchFlow SexYule celebration next week--and the female will
likely stew in whole-life hormoaners for hours each day.
Yox siphons twenty percent of the total economy, even here in her beloved
Corridor. LitVid (more often in the last few years divided into Lit and Vid),
older and more traditional, takes a mere and declining seventeen.
She is up a helix lift, the broad steps resembling solid marble but reshaping
with the fluidity of water; she climbs through the quaint delights of the farmers'
market on 4, spiraling up through the stacked circular substructures of
the clubs and social circles of 5 and 6, above the tallest trees of the courtyard,
and all around, coming in dizzying sweeps, the hundred-acre open spaces of
the comb--a lake to the north, where children boat and swim, and adolescents
/ SLANT 45
V[ry admires the architecture and feels her familiar protective warmth for
the comb players, but she is not of them; she was not born of them, would
not be considered acceptable social or sexual fodder, and is even handicapped
by being new in the Corridor.
That is the Corridor's greatest failing: a deep and abiding suspicion of the
outsiders who come to live and work here. This is not racism or even classism;
it is pure provincialism, remarkable where so much data and rney flows.
The helix takes her above the open spaces, and she is within the inmost
heart of the tower. Free community art here dances from the walls, lively and
colorful, conservative enough that it appeals to Mary. Collages of flight, birds
and free-form aerodynes, and on the opposite side, hundreds of smiling faces
of children, all surrounding an astonishingly moving ideal of a Mother, with
eyes half-closed in tender motherly ecstasy...
She remembers E. Hassida's portraits of women, equally moving but in
Glassed-in floors pass, pierced by interior residential blocks, the cheapest of
a very expensive selection, like milky rhomboid crystals glued to the walls of
the shafts and sinks.
Higher still, the civic function spaces and blocks take up the eastern flank
of the tower at the two hundred meter level. She debarks from the helix and
inspects herself in a gleaming porphyry column. The curve of the column
makes Mary appear even taller and thinner than she actually is, but her clothing
has kept itself in order, unwrinkled and fitted.
She is about to enter the PD block when her neck hair bristles and she turns
at the presence of a man a few feet behind her. She must appear startled and
apprehensive, for Full First Ernie Nussbaum, chief investigator for her division,
makes n apologetic face and holds up his hands.
"Sorry, Choy!" he says as she takes a long step ahead.
Mary shakes her head, forces a smile. "Sorry, sir. You surprised me."
"I didn't mean to invade your space."
"My mind was elsewhere," Mary says. "What can I do for you, sir?"
"I'm on a jiltz and I thought you'd be useful. It's not far from here, in this
"I have a meeting," she says, pointing to the translucent entrance of the
"I've reassigned that duty. I had hoped to catch you here.., outside."
"An active jiltz, sir? I didn't think I rated such confidence yet."
"You've donetoo many jiltzes in your career to be left cold so long. LA is
a tough town."
"Thanks," Mary says. She feels a sudden quickening of confidence; Nussbaum
is not known to be a softy, yet he has singled her out for a criminal
She falls in step with Nussbaum, gives him a side glance. He is not tall,
46 GREG BEAR
His eyes are his best feature, meltingly brown and sensitive, but his mouth is
straight and broad and comically serious, like Buster Keaton's. The combination